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[OPINION] CONGOLESE PLIGHT: How many More Must Suffer In DRC Before The West Stops Enabling Tshisekedi?

Provisional results in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) presidential election have indicated Félix Tshisekedi is the winner. As his regime secures another five years, the incumbent will once again be looking to the west to help keep him in power, as the US government did in 2018.

The DRC has lurched from crisis to crisis for more than 20 years. This is in part because the west has blocked the creation of an international criminal tribunal for the country, which is needed to end the culture of impunity fuelling violence, famine and the climate crisis killing and displacing Congolese people.

The US has supported Tshisekedi by, among other things, facilitating international grants and credit, and yet, according to the World Bank, 73% of the population live on less than $1.90 a day, and things are getting worse. The UN says 26 million Congolese are facing “very high acute malnutrition and excess mortality”, an increase from 13.5 million, or 28% of the population, in 2019.

Five years ago, Tshisekedi was humiliated by the Congolese people, coming third in the presidential race. Yet, against all available evidence that Martin Fayulu had won by a landslide, he was declared the winner – a decision the US supported. Huge international grants and credits to his regime followed, including $750m from the World Bank and a $1.5bn loan from the International Monetary Fund. Some success for a man whose record might be judged incompetent and who was rejected by voters.

In return, Tshisekedi said he would end China’s control over the DRC’s rare minerals, which poses a strategic challenge for the US and EU’s clean-energy ambitions. The DRC supplies, mostly via China, 73% of the world’s cobalt – an essential component in wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicle batteries. In terms of untapped mineral reserves, the DRC was estimated to be worth $24tn (then about £15tn) by a 2011 UN study, which is more than the current GDP of the 27 EU member states combined.

Since 2018, Tshisekedi has subverted the last vestiges of free and fair elections that the DRC still had, increasingly suppressing dissent – including of journalists, religious leaders and former allies and acolytes turned critics – and putting his allies into key posts.

Tshisekedi made Denis Kadima – who comes from the same Luba ethnic group and Kasaï region as the president – head of the electoral commission. He also appointed three new judges – also Luba – to the Congolese supreme court, which would hear any electoral dispute.

Unsurprisingly, opposition leaders calling for a rerun of the the most recent “sham” election, including the 2018 Nobel peace laureate Dr Denis Mukwege, Fayulu and Moïse Katumbi, have said they will not take their case to the supreme court because they have little faith in it.

To keep the military on his side, Tshisekedi has promoted army officers who are facing UN, US and EU sanctions for human rights violations. There has been an increase in violence, including by the Rwandan-backed M23 militia, which has displaced nearly 7 million Congolese (up from 4.5 million in 2018), making the DRC one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises.

While no one knows how much Tshisekedi makes a month, figures show his office spent $41m in May 2022 alone, about five times the monthly cost of the French presidency.

It is no surprise that Tshisekedi was awarded the 20 December election. Nearly a week after voting started, Kadima could not tell journalists how many of the DRC’s polling stations had opened. Yet he announced on Sunday that Tshisekedi had apparently won with 73.34% of the votes compiled from 64,000 of the 75,400 polling stations.

According to the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo (CENCO) and the Church of Christ in the Congo (ECC), which jointly deployed the largest electoral observers’ mission, more than 27% of polling stations did not open because the government, which invested $1.2bn in organising the election – double the 2018 cost – did not deliver ballot papers, depriving 15 million of 44 million Congolese of their right to vote.

Most of the remaining polling stations in the country opened late because voting machines or ballots arrived late. Observers also found that some of the voting machines showed votes had already been cast. In Kalemie, on Lake Tanganyika in the far east of the country, soldiers fired guns to chase witnesses and observers from polling stations and took all the ballot papers with them.

Another electoral observers’ mission, Symocel, wrote to Kadima calling for a rerun because of the high level of alleged irregularities, including officials from the Tshisekedi regime having voting machines in their homes.

Disputes over the legitimacy of DRC governments often spark violence with far-reaching consequences. Kadima’s predecessor, Corneille Nangaa, is threatening to march into Goma, the largest city in eastern DRC, and then the capital, Kinshasa, to overthrow Tshisekedi, having launched a new rebel movement, Alliance Fleuve Congo, in partnership with the M23 militia.

If the history of DRC has shown anything, it’s that fraud and the enablers of fraud rarely feel the consequences, it is the Congolese people who always suffer.

CREDIT: The Guardian UK

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